I can still taste the first bowl of miso soup I ever had. It was at a higher-ish end Tepanyaki restaurant chain called Benihana, one of those places where they have a cook make the food in front of you on a grill set in the table-it’s a great place to bring dates. Before all the hoopla and pageantry and juggling of shrimp tales could begin, the waitress brought you out a soup or salad. I picked the soup. In hindsight, their’s was nothing really special, some fried onions, little pieces of tofu, and a couple sliced scallions. The broth was what it was all about. It was so good, rich and light at the same time, with just the perfect amount of savory kick from the miso.
This miso soup is about a nice broth flavored with miso, of course, but moreso it’s all about having another useful, simple matsutake recipe. Unlike the vast majority of wild mushrooms, matsutake don’t like cream, cheese or butter at all, (although fat in the flavor of oil is ok) so the more clean, simple (read as Japanese) recipes you have for them, the better. I’ve eaten mushrooms in miso soup plenty of times, but usually they’re small soup mushrooms like Flammelina velutipes (enoki), or Hypsizygus tessellatus (buna shimeji), never something as special as a matsie, and I wouldn’t expect to.
It’s not just as simple as throwing matsutake in some dashi and letting them ride though, it’s all about making sure you can capture the matsutake aroma. Cooked and simmered in the broth like the other mushrooms you might use, the matsutake could be overtaken by the miso flavor, and if I can’t taste matsutake in my matsutake miso soup, I wasn’t going to be happy.
Am I splitting hairs here? Some people might say so, but those people didn’t drive six hours round trip to pick their matsutake. To make sure I taste matsutake, (their aroma is most potent raw) I add them to the soup add the last minute, and I slice them thicker than other mushrooms that go into soup so they keep a crunch that floods your sinuses with matsutake flavor as you chew.
As I was gathering things to put together the miso soup, I had a revelation. I’d just learned about Cryptataenia canadensis, or Mitsuba, as it’s known in Japan. It’s a plant in the parsley family (the other name is Japanese parsley), and it’s often used in miso soup, too, so I knew it would be a great in the soup. I spend a lot of time on a farm in Wisconsin that’s completely covered in the stuff, so all I had to do was take a walk into the sugar bush with the dog and grab some.
You might be able to get some at your local asian market, or just substitute some other tender greens, cilantro, parsley, or just skip it. I was just happy I’d thought of a great way to have matsutake and mitsuba together, next time, I’m going to have to grill the mushrooms and toss them with mistsuba like a warm salad. Yum.
This is a basic scratch miso soup, but you could sure use a packet from an Asian market in a pinch, or use your favorite dashi recipe. I added some dried matsutake to my dashi, but it’s optional, most of the matsie flavor is going to come from the shaved mushrooms here.
Matsutake Miso Soup
- 6 cups dashi
- 2 cup diced wild greens such as mitsuba
- 1 cup tofu diced ¼ inch
- 4 tablespoons red miso or to taste
- 2 oz matsutake 4-6 small mushrooms, thickly shaved
- 5 cups water
- Kombu: ¾ oz 20 grams or one 4 x 5 inch piece
- Bonito flakes 2 heaping cups, or 60 grams
- A good handful of dried matsutake optional
For the dashi
- Soak kombu for 3 minutes in 9 cups h20. heat the water with kombu to nearly boiling, but do not boil. Remove and discard kombu. Add bonito flakes, dried matsutake, and turn off heat, allow to infuse for 20 minutes.
- Strain, cool and reserve. Discard bonito or save to make furikake.
For the soup
- Heat the dashi and miso until simmering.
- Add the greens and tofu and heat through.
- Double check the seasoning and adjust as needed, then add the matsutake, stir to heat through but don’t try to cook them, turn off the heat and serve.